By Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro | Associated press
BENI, Congo – Congolese authorities urged churches, restaurants and hotels to step up security on Sunday, fearing more violence after a suicide bomber killed five people in eastern Congo in the first such attack.
The mayor of Beni, Narcisse Muteba, a police colonel, warned the owners of popular places in the city of Beni that they must add security guards with metal detectors because the “terrorists” could strike again.
“We ask people to be vigilant and to avoid public places during this festive time,” Muteba told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Officials initially said the death toll was six plus the suicide bomber, but Muteba revised that figure a day later to five. Thirteen others remained hospitalized after the explosion at the entrance to the Inbox restaurant on Christmas Day.
Saturday’s bloodshed dramatically increased fears that Islamic extremism could take hold in Beni, which has already suffered years of attack by rebel Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF.
Muteba blamed the latest attack on these rebels, whose exact links to international extremist groups have been murky. ISIS’s Central Africa Province claimed responsibility for the attacks blamed on the ADF, but it is unclear what role the most prominent organization may have played in organizing and funding the attacks.
There were worrying signs of escalating religious extremism around Beni: Two local imams were killed earlier this year within weeks of each other, one of whom spoke out against the ADF.
Then, in June, the Central African Province of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a suicide bomber who blew himself up near a bar in Beni without injuring others. Another explosion the same day in a Catholic church injured two people.
There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday’s attack, in which authorities say the suicide bomber was ultimately prevented from entering the crowded restaurant. After the explosion near the entrance, blood stained the sidewalk and mutilated chairs lay near the entrance.
Rachel Magali, who was at the restaurant with her sister-in-law and several other people, described hearing a loud noise, then people started to cry.
“We rushed to the exit where I saw people lying,” she told the AP. âThere were green plastic chairs scattered all over the place and I also saw heads and arms that were no longer attached. It was really horrible.
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.